How Chickens Became Like Apple and Android Phones

90% of chickens are one of two breeds, which contributes to environmental problems that are spreading worldwide

Michael Scaturro


Photo: branex/Getty Images

In In February 1948, 40 farmers from around the U.S. put 720 chicken eggs on planes and trains and sent them to a small town near Washington, D.C., to be part of a contest.

Once the eggs arrived in Easton, Maryland, workers unpacked them and labeled each tray by number to disguise the eggs’ breeder. When the birds hatched, their wings were tagged with a metal number. Four weeks later, the chickens were carefully examined for size, color, and weight.

They were looking for what contest organizers called the “Chicken of Tomorrow.” At the time, as had been the case for centuries, chickens were raised for their eggs — all around the world, only the wealthy ate chicken as a main dish. The industry wanted to change that, and was betting on chickens becoming cheaper than beef and pork, then the most popular meat, if they could be bred to grow larger while eating less feed. The contest was part of their planned revolution.

The beginning of this revolt kicked off with the picking of the winning breeds: the New Hampshire, the White Rocks, and Dark Cornish flocks. Soon after, two British companies — which eagerly…